10 Tips for Packing Light

By: Patrick J. Kiger
If you have to sit on your bag to shut it, that's not a good sign.
Sami Sarkis/Getty Images

In 1940s films, characters board steamships with an army of porters to lug their many bulky suitcases. But in today's age of airline travel, that kind of thing would never happen. In fact, U.S. Airways charges a $15 to $100 fee for each bag checked on a domestic flight, plus additional fees for bags more than 50 pounds (22.6 kilograms) [source: U.S. Airways]. Gone are the days of packing every item of clothing that you might conceivably wear on your European vacation.

The point is: Be smart and pack light. It's a good idea to pack a single, semisoft bag whose combined length, width and depth doesn't exceed 60 inches (152.4 centimeters). That's the maximum size that most airlines allow for carry-ons. Then stow it in the overhead storage bin [source: Gifford]. You'll do your spinal disks a favor, and with fewer items to keep track of, you'll minimize the chances of leaving something behind at a hotel.


Click through the next 10 pages for more tips from the experts on how to pack light.

10: Make a List, and Check It Twice

If you don't make a packing list, then don't say we didn't warn you when you wake up in a hotel room on the morning of a crucial business meeting and realize your white dress shirt is at home. In her book "How to Stay Healthy and Fit on the Road," travel guru Joanne V. Lichten advises compiling multiple lists -- one for two-day business trips, another for a weeklong vacation and so on [source: Lichten].

But no matter what type or length of trip you're taking, list-making has another benefit. As you tally what you absolutely need, you'll realize what you don't need. Unless you're meeting with the same client every day on a business trip, for example, you can get away with wearing the same suit or blazer. Travel writer and luggage marketer Rick Steves limits himself to one extra pair of pants, four shirts, several days' worth of underwear and socks, a sweater, and either a light jacket or a warmer coat if the weather's chilly at his destination. Even with his laptop, camera, and toiletries included, his baggage weighs a Spartan 20 pounds (9 kilograms) [source: Steves].


9: Pack a Little Detergent

If you've got meetings with different people, you can wear the same suit twice.
Leukos/Getty Images

If you can spare 10 minutes a night to wash your socks, underwear and shirts or blouses in your hotel room, you can save a lot of space in your suitcase. You can make the job easier by picking up a few pairs of special quick-dry, nylon and spandex garments, such as underwear, T-shirts or tank-top blouses, from a specialty travel-clothing retailer. Advertising executive and frequent traveler Bruce Turkel recommends washing your stuff in the shower, rolling it into a towel, and then stomping up and down on it to squeeze out the excess water before you hang it to dry [source: Hanks].


8: Start Liking the Layered Look

Instead of packing a lot of bulky cold-weather clothes, do as the National Ski Patrol advises: Wear multiple layers of lightweight attire, which will trap air and conserve body heat. Travel writer Rick Steves recommends a lightweight pair of long underwear made of silk or synthetic material. Worn under your clothes, they'll keep you as warm as a heavy overcoat would [source: Steves]. Add a lightweight sweater for insulation and a thin jacket or coat as an outer shell to keep out the rain, sleet or snow [source: National Ski Patrol]. When the weather is more hospitable, you can dispense with a layer or two and stow the stuff in your bag.


7: Make "Repurposing" Your New Buzzword

Pack clothes that can be dressed up and dressed down.
Nick Dolding/Getty Images

You won't have to pack as much stuff if you pick items that can serve double or triple duty. The olive-colored khakis or black jeans that you wear on day hikes can pass as dress trousers at dinner, if you wear a nice sweater or blazer with them. For women, fashion consultant Mary Stephenson recommends a wrap dress as an all-purpose travel garment for casual and relatively formal occasions [source: Flam]. An oversized T-shirt can double as a nightgown and a beach cover-up. And since every ounce counts, leave your clock-radio at home and wear an inexpensive sports watch with an alarm function to get you up in the morning [source: Lichten].


6: Buy a Wrinkle-Resistant Wardrobe

Certain fabrics simply hold up better on the road, and the latest generation of wrinkle-resistant synthetic blends are one example. They look just as classy as wool and cotton and they smell better after multiple wearings. Ad man, road warrior Bruce Turkel is particularly enamored of L.L. Bean's mail-order line of wrinkle-resistant polyester-and-cotton-blend dress shirts. He claims they look wrinkled when you take them out of your bag, but then the heat from your body smoothes them out [source: Hanks].


5: Go With a Consistent Color Scheme

If you only you could pack your dog.
Digital Zoo/Getty Images

When everything in your travel wardrobe matches everything else, you increase the number of mix-and-match options, and you don't have to pack multiple belts or pairs of shoes [source: Mance]. Black T-shirts, indigo denim button-down shirts and sand-colored or olive khakis are lifesavers, since they go with most anything clean that's still left in your bag. Travel writer Rick Steves recommends choosing darker hues of clothing [source: Steves]. They're not only easy to match, but they also hide wrinkles and the coffee that you inevitably drip on them at some point during your trip.


4: Get Over Your Shoe Obsession

When Imelda Marcos, the wife of luxury-loving Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, fled the country with him in 1986, she reportedly left behind 2,700 pairs of shoes [source: Morrow]. There's a lesson in this: If she can do it, so can you. Each pair of dress shoes adds 1.5 pounds (0.6 kilograms) of weight to your luggage, and that adds up if you insist on taking a different pair to match every outfit. So limit yourself to packing no more than two pairs [source: Flam]. If you need dress shoes on your trip, wear them to the airport and squeeze a second pair of lightweight running or walking shoes into your bag. New York Times "Frugal Traveler" columnist Matt Gross gets by even more austerely -- he wears a pair of black trail-running sneakers and he packs a pair of flip-flops [source: Gross].


3: Pack Tight

The tighter and flatter you can get your stuff inside your bag, the more space you'll have for more stuff. Rolling, or better yet, bundle-wrapping your clothes, in which you wrap garments tightly around a central core object, will do the trick. For some detailed instructions on bundle-wrapping, check out travel expert Doug Dyment's Web site [source: Dyment]. Julie Morgenstern, author of "Organizing From the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life" recommends another nifty approach: Compartmentalize by using a set of fabric-mesh packing cubes, which you can buy for less than $30 online [source: Morgenstern].


2: Think Miniature

When in doubt, smaller is better. Don't waste precious space in your toiletries bag with full-size containers of deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lotions. Instead, pick up some sample sizes at your local dollar store, or decant them into travel-sized mini bottles. Count out needed doses of medication and store them in an inexpensive daily pill organizer that you can buy at any drugstore [source: Litchten]. If you're a business traveler who needs to take along a computer, perhaps you could leave your office laptop at home and travel with one of the latest super-lightweight netbooks. In addition to saving space, you'll decrease your luggage weight by 5 pounds (2.26 kilograms) [source: Meredith].


1: Take Full Advantage of That Personal Carry-on

Remember that in addition to the bag of carry-on luggage that goes in the overhead bin, airlines also allow you to bring along a briefcase, purse, shopping bag or knapsack, provided that you can slide it under the seat in front of you. The precise size restrictions on the second bag vary from airline to airline. Delta Airlines, for example, specifies a maximum size of 9-by-14-by-22 inches (22.8-by-35.5-by-55.8 centimeters) [source: Delta Airlines]. But it doesn't say anything about weight. That's why packing expert Judith Gifford recommends packing some of your heavier items in the day bag, which will not only free up space in your suitcase, but will make it lighter to lift [source: Gifford].

Lots More Information

Related Articles

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